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Compassionate conservative giving

| Tuesday, October 14, 2014

In November 2006, Arthur C. Brooks, behavioral economist and former Syracuse University professor, published findings from a wide-ranging study in a book called, “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism.” His findings, taken in part from George Will of the Washington Post, include the following:

  • Although liberal families’ incomes average six percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227).
  • Conservatives volunteer more time and give more blood.
  • People who reject the idea that “government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality” give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.

What? I thought conservatives were supposed to be against the poor? I thought the GOP was supposed to be greedy? Don’t we hear from liberal pundits that Republicans want to keep all they earn and let those with lesser means fall by the wayside?

Well, I guess if we did, they may not be correct.

Another recent study confirms this: The Chronicle of Philanthropy concluded, in their comprehensive analysis of Internal Revenue Service information, that the 17 most charitable states all voted for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election and 21 of the 24 least charitable states voted for Barack Obama. This would indicate that Republicans are putting our money where our mouths are when declaring that fiscal freedom can lead to a prosperous future for all. I believe that is generally true, but there may be another element at play here.

Charitable giving holds another strong correlation besides party identification and voting patterns: religiosity of states. States that donated the highest shares of their income to charity were both deeply religious and deeply conservative; which does not mean we must choose between these two factors, but instead leads us to confirm the old perception that religion and political preferences are closely intertwined.

I have had personal experiences with this phenomena growing up in Utah, a state dominated by the Republican Party and with a majority of the population being adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (more commonly referred to as Mormons). In Utah, it is less a contest of Democrat vs. Republican and more of a contest of mainstream Republican vs. tea party Republican vs. libertarian Republican, which makes for a sometimes unpredictable political dynamic. First, as many people here always ask me upon making my acquaintance, I am not Mormon and am Catholic as most of you are — although many of my friends are Mormon and are wonderful people. Second, I am proud to highlight the fact that my home state is the highest in charitable giving and volunteerism. I mention this not just to brag about my home state, but also to show that Republicans are, in fact, not evil. If anything, Republicans are more likely than other groups to put in the time and money to help those in need.

Why, then, are Republicans generally against a large government that is aimed at helping the people within its jurisdiction? There are a few reasons, chief among them being that Republicans are not anarchists. We do not want a nation without a government, we just want a government that is efficient and works within its means. A government which makes its social programs sustainable and keeps its budgets in surplus. More relevant to the topic at hand, however, is that Republicans, or at least I, do not believe the government should force us to feign altruism by increasing taxes for social program after social program. Governmental social programs lead to dependency, true charitable giving leads to life-changing experiences for both the beneficiary and the benefactor.

The ideal here is personal independence. If you go to a homeless shelter and help sort clothes, serve food or simply take the time to talk to the residents of the shelter, they are grateful to you for doing so and you walk away from the experience with a broadened view of the world around you. Both parties in this case may be inspired to change their lives as best they can. If the government just takes your money and hires employees for minimum wage to do the job day after day, you are mad at the government that taxed you, the employees are bogged down in a regimented schedule when they could be pursuing something greater and those in the shelters who just need a stranger to talk to are robbed of that experience. I am not advocating for the riddance of all social programs, I am instead saying the government should make social programs feasible and permit the human spirit of charitable giving to flourish.

Benevolent human independence is not just some dream, as evidenced above — Americans are living this ideal day after day when possessing the resolve and given the chance.


The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Kyle Palmer

Kyle Palmer is a senior from Dillon Hall studying accountancy. He welcomes any challenges to his opinions. He can be reached at kpalmer6@nd.edu

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  • Anon

    There may be a political divide when it comes to charitable giving, but it should be noted that there is also a class divide. The poor give a greater percentage of their limited wealth to charity than the rich give of their vast wealth, and give to charities that focus more on necessities than things like the arts. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/04/why-the-rich-dont-give/309254/

    I can’t speak to political views, but it certainly seems like the lower and working classes are better people than the wealthy.

    • MFG

      ” it certainly seems like the lower and working classes are better people than the wealthy.”
      I grew up in a working class family. I didn’t sense any extra nobility that was imparted by our fiscal circumstances. My parents taught us to think of others. The nuns who educated us did the same. There is nothing about money that either adds to or detracts from character. Let’s remember that St. Paul, despite being consistently misquoted, didn’t say that money was the root of all evil. He set his sights on the love of money.
      I have been extremely fortunate in my working career. I benefited from a tremendous education at Notre Dame, paid for by my working class parents in the days when it didn’t cost as much as a European sports car to attend ND. I’ve been blessed with financial success that I have been able to share. I attribute that to my parents, my teachers, and the values they instilled.
      As to the charities that focus on necessities versus the arts, I guess I don’t understand why both can’t be supported. I support the arts because that makes them available to everyone. That doesn’t preclude my supporting other charities.
      Have you been somehow empowered to determine who is worthy and who isn’t?

    • Guest

      Exactly. This is a more nuanced issue than “Conservatives give more than liberals.” The deep South states give the most to charity and are also the poorest in the country. These Southern states vote Republican for a variety of reasons — LBJ signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a deeply religious culture that may help explain the charitable giving, and a conscious effort by republican politicians to couple fiscally conservative policies with religious stances on social issues (abortion, gay rights), leading to people voting against their own economic interests.

      It should also be noted that Mormons are required to donate 10% of their income of their Church, which goes to in part to charitable causes. I believe this might help explain why Utah leads the nation in charitable giving–it would be surprising if they didn’t, no?

      Compassionate conservative is great. But let’s not turn a blind eye to economic policies that hamper social mobility in the United States or leave people in poverty. Compassionate people don’t want to see 400 million dollars cut from food stamps, don’t want to see 45,000 people die a year from a lack of health insurance, don’t want to see a minimum wage that doesn’t provide enough money for a person working a 40 hour week to live above the poverty line.

  • Chuck

    Palmer strikes again.

  • Pearl

    I work for one of those charitable organizations, and I can honestly say that I do not know any conservatives who are in our line of work. I believe that what you write is likely true, and I can see how it would be the case however it doesn’t seem like conservatives choose to make charity a profession.

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  • Marcos

    Yo, you’re talking about conservatives and religious people giving more to charity, but I bet those figures include donations to churches as “charities”. Excuse me for not thinking conservatives or Mormons or Catholics are particularly “compassionate” for dumping money into building more megachurches and marble palaces for their own religious ideologies. Let’s take out religious giving and see what the actual figures are. Who give more to charities that focus on the poor more than on religion? That build houses or feed the hungry? Because I bet it’s a bit different than what you’re presenting.

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